More than 2.5 million tourists visited Iraq in 2012

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By Khayoun Saleh

Azzaman, January 12, 2013

More than 2.5 million tourists visited Iraq in 2012 most of them on pilgrimage to the country’s holy shrines, new figures have revealed.

The figures were issued by the Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism and show that Iraq has become a mecca for Muslim tourists, mainly Shiites from across the world.

The numbers are reportedly the largest ever since the country opened its doors to tourism for the first time since the 1970s.

The rising number of tourists shows that Iraq is on its way to normalcy following years of violence that engulfed the country in the aftermath of the 2003-U.S. invasion.

The ministry gave no details on the nationality of the tourists but most of them are believed to have come from countries like Iran, which is predominantly Shiite and other states with sizeable Shiite communities such Lebanon, Bahrain and Pakistan.

It also did not say how profitable the industry is for the economy as no figures were displayed in terms of hard cash entering Iraqi government coffers.

The influx of tourists has led to an economic boom mainly in the religious cities of Karbala and Najaf where most revered Shiite saints are said to be buried.

Each day, more than 6,000 Iranian pilgrims cross the border into Iraq.